As San Antonio slowly but surely turns into a food destination for hungry travelers, chefs across the city are highlighting some of their most adventurous, indulgent ingredients before diners even ponder their main course. Antipasti, charcuterie and high-end cheese boards come across as culinary playscapes, each offering a smattering of something different to surprise even the most jaded customer.
New restaurants like Javier Flores’ Spanish-inspired Barraca joined the likes of Tre Trattoria, Il Sogno, Dough Pizzeria Napoletana, The Granary and Bohanan’s in featuring meat- and cheese-filled boards (or at Barraca, jamon- and manchego-filled tablitas) as an option for ravenous patrons looking for a shared experience, or those who want just a taste of luxury without breaking the bank.
“At times we’re handcuffed by selections–I can’t take the golden beets off the menu because people would scream at me,” said Tre’s Jason Dady, only half-joking about his popular vegetable antipasti (four selections for $18). On the meatier side, Tre provides salumi, or cured meats, choices like house-cured pastrami, smoked foie gras, a familiar prosciutto di Parma, soppressetta and a salame Emilia (three for $18). He sources his salumi predominantly from a New York-based company, Salumeria Biellese, or locally from Gaucho Gourmet, owned by brothers Luciano and Juan Manuel Ciorciari.
“Gaucho emerged as a leader in high-end imports, which most broad-line distributors don’t have the capability [for] or want to [do],” said Dady.
Over at Bohanan’s Bar, chef Heather Nanez also sources most of her products from Gaucho Gourmet. “Now that (Luciano) is selling to the public, it would be easy for anyone to spend hours in there,” Nanez said.
The Ciorciaris have helped the chef stock about seven cheeses and seven meats ranging from a semi-soft Rogue River Caveman Blue from Oregon and a Humboldt Fog mild goat cheese from California to more far-reaching locales such as a favorite Saint–Andre triple cream brie from France and a hard, sheep’s milk roncal from Spain. The line-up, which changes every six months or so, also features a chef’s selection option where Nanez chooses what to pair on a board based on the guest’s cheese or wine preferences ($16 for two, $22 for three, $26 for four).
The boards aren’t just a hit at the downstairs bar, either: Bohanan’s has been serving elaborate versions at catering gigs. “We get a chance to talk people through their choices,” Nanez said.
She pairs the cuts and cheeses with either imported mustards or house-made seasonal mustards, toasted breads and honeycombs. “I had people ask why we went with the honeycombs at first, but it’s such a classic thing to do,” Nanez said. Now, guests ask for extra.
Chef Tim Rattray is also a fan of using honeycombs on boards ($15). Rattray’s The Granary carries Texas cheeses, which change frequently. A recent board contained Birdville Reserve and Drunken Monk cheese from Eagle Mountain Cheese Farmhouse in Granbury and a dreamy Hopelessly Bleu goat cheese from Pure Luck Dairy in Dripping Springs. He completed it with the addition of crunchy house pickles, chutney and guajillo honey from Carrizo Springs.
Head down the street to Minnie’s Tavern, where diners will find a selection of triple-cream, semi-soft and hard-aged cheeses. Andrew Weissman first served cheese plates at Le Reve in 1997, so it made sense for the chef to add them back now that he owns another French restaurant. The assortment runs the gamut of sources—70 to 80 percent of the stinky cheeses are flown in from France, others are sourced from Murray’s Cheese or the award-winning Twin Maple Farm in New York ($14 for three, $16 for five).
“Now that we’re really getting into a groove at Minnie’s, we’re starting to put out accouterment like chutneys, pickled plums, toasted peppercorns and honeycombs, which was something I started 16 or 17 years ago,” Weissman said.
For Doug Horn, chef-owner at Dough Pizzeria Napoletana, building a board means showing off ingredients, whether it’s a humble roasted eggplant or salumi imported from Italy.
“It’s really important to contrast colors, textures, light and heavy items,” said Horn of the perfect board. An antipasto platter at Dough will, at any given time, feature variations on roasted peppers, briny olives, marinated olives, mortadella, Toscana salami, a blue-vein gorgonzola or a red grape mustardo ($11 for a small board, $20 for a large).
Dough’s latest expansion involved rearranging the bar area to make room for a new hand-cranked, fire engine red slicer, the chef’s latest toy.
“It’ll definitely change up how we present our antipasti,” said Horn.
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